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Ensuring truth and forms of responsibilities in anthropological representation: Dilemmas of a home ethnographer* (Talk, Virtual: View on Demand)

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Abstract

I did a year’s ethnographic fieldwork as part of my Ph.D. in a marginal community in Bhutan. As a home ethnographer, I was welcomed into the community and was given privileged and instant access into some of their most private moments and spaces. In return, I was expected to document some momentous events occurring in the community, which was beginning to emerge from centuries of impoverishment into an era of new hope and exuberance engendered by the recent democratization of the country’s polity (Chophel, 2021). The political performance of ‘progress’ harbingered new forms of political rituals in a community that already had year-round ritual obligations as part of its Buddhist heritage. This ‘development’ process involved negotiation with not just the traditional local elites, but also with representatives of the state, NGOs and donor agencies. So, the ethnography I produced had considerable significance as my representation of this community could dictate the volume and areas of funding the community received. My ethnographic representation of the community had to be not only truthful, but also responsible in neither diminishing by ‘irresponsible truth’, nor augmenting by ‘untrue exaggeration’, the community’s pitch to mobilize resources from the various grant-making bodies. This talk explores the particularly onerous responsibility on a home ethnographer who must maintain his ties to the community because of indispensable familial and social ties, while also foregrounding the ethical and epistemic processes of writing an objective ethnography.

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2021-10-08